Armoury

Classified Federal Heritage Building

Hamilton, Ontario
Exterior photo of the John Weir Foote Armoury, showing the high quality and well maintained masonry work, 2001. (© Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings/Inventaire des bâtiments historiques du Canada, Parks Canada Agency /Agence Parcs Canada, 2001.)
Corner view
(© Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings/Inventaire des bâtiments historiques du Canada, Parks Canada Agency /Agence Parcs Canada, 2001.)
Address : 200 James Street North, John Weir Foote Armoury National Historic Site of Canada, Hamilton, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1986-09-10
Dates:
  • 1888 to 1908 (Construction)

Other Name(s):
  • John Weir Foote Armoury  (Other Name)
  • Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Museum  (Other Name)
  • John Weir Foote Armoury National Historic Site of Canada  (Other Name)
Custodian: National Defence
FHBRO Report Reference: 86-15
DFRP Number: 10304 00

Description of Historic Place

The Armoury on James Street North, also called the John Weir Foote Armoury National Historic Site of Canada, is composed of two armouries that together form one large complex. Built at different times, the buildings are united by their use of red brick decorated with white stone trim, and by such military references as corner towers and troop doors. Their drill halls are spanned by impressive truss systems. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Armoury was designated as a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its direct association with events of national importance, its very good aesthetic and functional design, and its important contribution to the character of the area.

Originally built for Hamilton's volunteer militia, whose growth and development closely corresponded to the evolution of the active volunteer militia force throughout the colony, the Armoury serves today as headquarters for the 11th Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (reputed to be the oldest Canadian military unit still in existence); the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry; the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada; and the 705 Communications Squadron.

Though quite different, the architectural styles of the two drill halls give the present complex an impressive unity. The North Drill Hall is one of the oldest in the country and is of a picturesque Romanesque Revival style. The South Drill Hall has a more dramatic and highly symmetrical façade. The truss work spanning the interior parade grounds in the two drill halls is significant in each hall for their time.

Sources: Jacqueline Adell, John Weir Foote Armoury, Hamilton, Ontario, Federal Heritage Building Review Office Building Report 86-015;John Weir Foote Armoury, Hamilton, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement, 86-015.

Character-Defining Elements

The heritage character of this property is defined by the street façades on James, Robert and Hughson Streets, and by the interiors of the two drill halls, namely: the façades of red brick, with decorative cut stone dressing and trim, and the high quality and well maintained masonry work; the fronts of the drill halls, which are characteristic of facilities of this kind at the time, with corner towers flanking a central gable; the clearly demarcated entrances, the prominent gable fronts and the buttresses along the side walls, clearly reflecting the interior layout and function; the exterior design of the connecting wings, which is subdued but sympathetic, providing a high degree of integrity to the complex; the interior of the North Drill Hall, marked by an exposed wooden truss system above the central parade ground, reputed to be the oldest structure of its size in the city, as well as the well-crafted staircase leading to the old officers' mess rooms; the South Drill Hall’s steel truss system, which provided at the time what is believed to be the largest interior space of its type in the country; the officers’ mess, with its carved oak staircases decorated with regimental insignia, the French doors with art nouveau decoration, and the wrought-iron viewing gallery.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.

The Armoury on James Street North was constructed in three stages and actually consists of two drill halls built side by side with interconnecting wings. The North Drill Hall was built in 1888 to plans drawn up by Henry James, staff architect of the Department of Militia and Defence. In 1908 the second and larger South Drill Hall was designed for the Department of Public Works by the Hamilton architectural firm of Steward and Whitton. A two-storey extension was built to create a continuous brick façade along James Street. In 1936 an addition was attached to the back of the original Drill Hall and extended along Hughson Street to the South Drill Hall to create one large complex, now commonly referred to as the Armoury. It is currently owned by the Department of National Defence. See FHBRO Building Report 86-15.


Reason for Designation

On September 10, 1986, the building was designated Classified because of its direct association with events of national importance, because of its very good aesthetic and functional design, and because of its important contribution to the character of the area.

It was originally built for Hamilton's volunteer militia, whose growth and development closely corresponds to the evolution of the active volunteer militia force throughout the colony. It serves today as headquarters for the 11th Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, reputed to be the oldest Canadian military unit still in existence; the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry; the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada; and the 705 Communications Squadron.

The architectural styles of the two Drill Halls are quite different, but their compatible scale and materials give the present complex an impressive unity. The North Drill Hall is one of the oldest in the country, and is of a picturesque Romanesque Revival style. The South Drill Hall has a more dramatic and highly symmetrical façade. The truss work spanning the interior parade grounds in the two Drill Halls are each significant accomplishments for their time.


Character Defining Elements

The heritage character of this property is defined by the street façades on James, Robert and Hughson Streets, and by the interiors of the two drill halls.

The façades are of red brick with decorative cut stone dressing and trim, the masonry work being of high quality and well maintained. The fronts of the drill halls are characteristic of facilities of this kind at the time, with corner towers flanking a central gable. The clearly demarcated entrances, the prominent gable fronts and the buttresses along the side walls clearly reflect the interior layout and function. The exterior design of the connecting wings is subdued but sympathetic, providing a high degree of integrity to the complex. All elements of the exteriors on at least the three major street elevations should be preserved.

The interior of the North Drill Hall is marked by an exposed wooden truss system above the central parade ground, reputed to be the oldest structure of its size in the city. Also of note is the well crafted staircase leading to the old officers' mess rooms. The South Drill Hall is marked by a steel truss system which provided at the time what is believed to be the largest interior space of its type in the country. Other significant features include the officers' mess, with its carved oak staircases decorated with regimental insignia, the french doors with art nouveau decoration, and the wrought iron viewing gallery. The interior layout and decorative treatment of these drill hall interiors should be preserved, and any new work which is required designed to protect and enhance the traditional quality of these spaces.